The Right Racquet For You

Stiff or Flexible… what kind of tennis racquet is best for you?  Thanks to Fred Drilling for sharing the explanation below, which he described as “Best article I’ve ever seen!”

What is Powerful?

Written by equipment guru Jon Levy for…

Defining a racquet as “powerful” based solely on its stiffness rating can be misleading. There are other specs involved—weight, distribution of mass, string pattern and set-up, length of frame—that will certainly affect a racquet’s power potential. Perhaps your friend’s racquet is much lighter than yours, or possesses a thicker beam that you couldn’t maneuver as quickly. But the general rule of thumb is that firmer racquets tend to lead to bigger hitting.

First, for those unfamiliar, the flexibility of a racquet is determined by its RA rating. This is typically measured with an expensive piece of equipment such as a Babolat RDC (racquet diagnostic center) machine. The range for most commercial racquets is from around 60 (lots of flex) to 73 (rigid). Manufacturers may put this rating on the frame, but it’s easily accessible at knowledgeable retailers or online at sites like Tennis Warehouse.

Energy Transfer

The basic reason why frame stiffness impacts power—don’t expect a sophisticated physics lesson—is energy transfer. At contact, all frames bend somewhat; the more flexible the more energy it absorbs. If the ball stayed on the string bed for the entirety of the frame’s return to stasis, all that potential energy would be transferred into the shot. (Think Wile E. Coyote landing in a bendy palm tree and then getting flung into oblivion). However, a tennis ball remains on the strings for a fraction of a second and leaves before the frame fully rebounds. So, all other things being equal, a stiffer frame bends less and transfers more energy into the ball than one with more flex.

A firmer racquet also provides a more uniform hitting surface with a higher margin for error. The user doesn’t have to center the ball as precisely to produce a workable shot. For me, this is one of the more noticeable differences—mishits aren’t punished as severely and typically land deeper in the court. A flexible frame can have more “dead” spots on the string bed, especially on off-center hits. Make contact outside the sweet spot and there’s a greater probability the ball flutters with less pace and depth.

This is also why flexible frames are conventionally thought of as being more control-oriented. Which, like power, can be a bit misleading since the racquet itself won’t produce more accurate shots. But players with fast swing speeds—the type who want little help from their frames when it comes to hitting with pace—feel they can take their customary cuts on the ball with less concerns of overhitting. This trait can often be shaded by user ability. Players with slower swing speeds who don’t hit the ball as cleanly may actually perceive a stiff frame to have more control simply because the added power helps them get shots over the net more consistently.

Arm-Friendly Racquets

From a safety standpoint, because they bend and absorb more shock on impact, flexible racquets are generally considered more arm-friendly. Stiffer frames pass more vibration to the hitting arm and have been known to inflame joints. Players with elbow and wrist issues tend to welcome the trade-off of lesser power for improved arm health.

But perhaps the starkest contrast between stiff and flexible frames—and easily the most subjective—is comfort. Some players find stiff racquets to be too harsh; other find them crisp and responsive. Fans of flexible frames deem them plush, with a buttery feel; detractors label them mushy. In my role as equipment editor, I’ve seen testers refer to frames with an RA in the low 60s as “overly firm” and others owning something in the 70s as having a “soft” response.

In other words, regardless of any stiffness rating, or perceptions of power, control and comfort, the only measurement that really matters is how a racquet feels and performs in a player’s hand. And there’s only one way to figure that out.

Your opinions?

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9 thoughts on “The Right Racquet For You

  1. Maybe racquet reviewers should take a tip from wine reviewers: “This racquet has a plush, buttery feel, with a hint of graphite and overtones of maneuverability.”

    Jack, love it! thanks, george

  2. What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander. (I don’t know if that is politically correct anymore). What works for one player does not necessarily work for another. Each player has an individual style and that is why “try before you buy” is so important.

    Michael, my problem with demo racquets is that the string type and tension dramatically impact how the racquet plays. thanks, george

  3. I hear the new Wilson “Clash” rackets sets the bar high for all of this!

    Jim, stiff? Flexible? george

  4. I still enjoy a heavy racquet (12.8 oz.) considered heavy by today’s standards. In the younger days played with 13.6 oz.. Heavy racquets not only absorb the shock of ball meets racquet they plough through the hitting zone better than light racquets. With a light racquet (less than 12.6 oz.) I feel I have to work harder to keep the ball deep in a baseline rally.

    Tom, i was talking with Roy Emerson at camp and we discovered that his racquet was 50% heavier than mine! 15 oz compared to my 10 oz. Maybe i should add some lead tape?? thanks, george

  5. Agree with you George that variation in string selection really complicates demos. For those of us with well established string preference, I think it makes sense to ask and be willing to pay for our favorite string in the “finalist” demo. I’ve used Kirschbaum Proline 2 (soft but powerful copoly) for years and no demo feels close to “right” without it.

    Another issue with demos is the tendency to rely only on feel. Equally important is how your shots look from the other side of the net. I ask my regular hitting partner if my shot is “heavier or lighter” and if the spin is more or less difficult to handle.

    Brian, you are right, if you are going to switch racquets and spend $200 per piece… investing in a stringing job is worth the investment. Thanks, george

  6. Once you realize the benefits of weight in a racquet you never go back… Roy certainly has! 15 oz. wow!!! now that’s something to stick a volley with… I heard the Bryan bros play with racquets around the same weight but very head light … so easy to maneuver in doubles. You could try adding lead tape at 9 and 3 o’clock on the inside of the frame running alongside the strings… or just demo a RF autograph which is 12.6 oz. and see how that feels.

    Tom, i will try it! thanks, george

  7. Leave it to Howard Rogg to confess he likes weed….. That IS what he means, isn’t it? 🙂

  8. According to Tennis Warehouse, both the basic Wilson Clash 100 and the tour model of the same are quite flexible, showing only 55 on the stiffness index.



    By contrast, and purely as an example, the Wilson Ultra 100 Countervail is actually very stiff, at 74 on the index. However, some of the user comments suggest that the countervail technology makes the racquet play less stiff than it is.


    Folks can look up for themselves other Wilson racquets as well as racquets made by other manufacturers.

    My suggestion is always to demo everything before buying, but I agree with some of the earlier comments that you really must have your usual strings or something similar in the racquet to be able to judge it properly when demoing.

    For example, last year I was thinking about switching out my current Wilson racquets – whose frames are over 10 years old and of which I have 5 identical racquets – with a newer model. Since I have always played with Wilson, I gravitated to several of their models last year. However, every demo that I took down from the wall at my local pro shop was strung with some kind of poly. It was quite aggravating because, being very old school, I play with “imitation gut” multifilament strings like Technifibre NRG2 or Wilson NXT @ 17-guage (or even sometimes 18-guage). I even offered to give the shop a few packets of my own strings for them to replace the poly in a few of the demo models if they would restring them for me, but they politely declined. They told me if they did that, they would never sell those racquets without switching out my strings if I didn’t buy the demo racquets because pretty much everybody who is looking for a new racquet in their shop intends to put poly in it. So, in effect, it would cost them double the charge to restring the racquets just for my demo.

    I ultimately did take out about 5 different racquets, all with poly in them, just to see if I could feel the frames. But it was impossible to make any meaningful comparison to my current racquet model in terms of power, feel, etc. with the poly in them. So I took all of the racquets back to the shop and resolved to keep playing with my existing racquets for as long as the frames don’t get rattles or break. I know the racquets have racquet fatigue by now, but I would rather do that than put down $200 – $250 on a model that I could only hit with using the wrong string for me and taking a chance.

    Marty, sadly, i am in the same old-racquet situation with no good solution! thanks, george

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